By Dr. Abner Mality

Canada's metal scene always surprises me. Unlike the US, where one or two main trends always seem to dominate, the Canadian bands are all over the map stylistically and range from death metal to folk metal to nu metal. Laika describe themselves as melodic death metal, but their take on it is different than the norm.

Instead of cloning In Flames or maybe Black Dahlia Murder, these guys play a quite elegant style of death metal with frequent use of keyboards. The somber piano that starts the record off signals something a little different, but the good news is that the keys pop up at just the right time instead of being constantly smeared over everything else like a coat of paint. Piano is used just as much as synth and that gives things a classy sound. The heaviness is definitely present but at no point does Laika just blast away with utter fury. There's a lot of structure to the riffing and it took me more than one listen to grasp everything they were trying to get at.

The musicianship is top notch with one glaring exception, that being the lead guitar soloing, which just doesn't measure up to the rest. The best song on the disc is "The Immortal", which is stirring and epic sounding, but there's a thin, high-pitched and exceedingly poor guitar solo that just makes me cringe. This band needs a real shredder for moments like that. The vocals are harsh all the way through, with none of the annoying clean vocals that many bands of this ilk feel they must use, but they can become tiresome over the course of the whole album.

I found complex tunes like "Escalation of Terror" and "Caligae A Galea" to be intriguing and classy affairs. This is melodic death metal with its own identity, not following the usual cliches. I could easily see this band moving up the ladder and attracting attention.